Self-Connection for Survival

This week’s blog is by Leora Ward, creator of Healing in Service. Leora has worked for many years in the social justice, women’s empowerment, and humanitarian fields.

How do we really know when we are whole? How do we know when we are healed?

I have been stewing on these questions for a while. And, when I look at them on the page, they seem silly. They seem like the embodiment of my privileged, Western upbringing… only questions that would come from being raised in a society that obsesses about success and encourages women to uphold an unrealistic notion of perfection. And, when I take a gentler and more loving look, I see hope. These are questions borne out of a desire and a longing for true happiness. When read without judgement, they are simply the innocent questions of an aching heart.

My curiosity about my own journey and why I became a humanitarian worker has haunted me for years. I never knew how to respond when asked, “Why did you choose this work?” I sometimes answered out of guilt, sometimes out of ego. Sometimes I would say that my grandparents were Holocaust survivors and it was my duty, or that my sister worked for Continue reading

The mo(u)rning after

This post is written by an anonymous contributor.

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“Cosmic Bruise” by artist Ivy Michelle Berg, available at: ArtbyIvy

Like many who work in humanitarian aid, when I am asked about why I do it, I dissemble and misdirect, I make a joke or change the subject without actually answering. Sometimes I tell the truth as a joke, and hide it in plain sight. “World Peace” is such a reliable cliché to raise a smirk and avoid the question. To say out loud why I really do it, to put those words into the air, is too hard. I am afraid of the look I will see in the other person’s eyes, and afraid of their judgement. I am afraid that if I am honest, I will have to say it through the medium of a jaunty pop song, possibly from the 80’s. Because the truth is, I do it because I believe in love and I believe love can make the world a better place. Saying it out loud sounds so adolescently idealistic, so sentimentally naïve at best, self-righteous, arrogant and sanctimonious at worst.

I left my job at the end of last year in a maelstrom of mess; stretched out to the point of coming unravelled, shattered by too many emergencies, and a level of hostility within the organisation that I was entirely ill-equipped to withstand, profoundly disillusioned. I felt like the worst kind of fool for believing in any of it, and no longer had any faith in my own judgement. In the months since then, I have been trying to work out what happened, to parse out what it was all about, and to find my way back to myself.

I know about fear, as so many of us do. I know about those moments of absolute clarity when we think we may actually die, today, now. I know about the exquisitely heightened alertness of being in a moment that could go either way; a checkpoint guard toying with Continue reading

Brené Brown & the Power of Vulnerability

In aidspeak, ‘vulnerability’ is almost always a negative word. It denotes weakness, fragility,  a heightened possiblity of something or someone being in danger or at risk, unsafe or unprotected. It is something to be guarded against, mitigated, planned for; we often talk or (moreso) write about how our programs will ‘target vulnerable populations’ or ‘reduce vulnerability.’ We show donors and security officers how we recognize existing vulnerabilities and have made plans to keep ourselves and our staff safe.

This is not the fault of the aid world. Merriam-Webster defines vulnerability as meaning “easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally” or “open to attack, harm, or damage.”  A quick scan of other online dictionaries did not turn up any indication of Continue reading

Singing in the storm

bird-by-bird“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

― Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Random acts of kindness

This post is written by an anonymous contributor.

BBC Radio 4 has a magazine programme on Saturday mornings, hosted by ex-Communard and now the Reverend Richard Coles; it’s essential listening for me when I’m at home, and doubles as my backdrop to experimental cooking.

About 5 years ago, the programmed featured a slot precipitated by a listener who wanted to thank a stranger who had helped them in a moment of crisis. Since they had not even taken the person’s name, they thought they might reach them by telling the story, and saying thank you, on national radio.

Listening as I fiddled about with lavender ice-cream, I thought about such critical moments in my life; times when complete strangers offered help and kindness for no reason other than as a gift of humanity. I decided then that I would make an effort to ‘do’ a random act of kindness every day, that I would pay attention and act when I thought it would help. And so for the last 5 years, I have done this – sometimes with very small gestures and other times by doing something more significant.

For example, I was once at Paddington Station at 8.30am. It was rush hour into London, the station was packed with people, the entrance to the Tube had been closed because Continue reading

Next deployment: TBD

This post is by Missing in the Mission blogger Suguru Mizunoya. 

Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.

 The Great Binding Law, Iroquois Nations

“Voicing for the voiceless” is a phrase that I liked and used frequently during my service with UNICEF in Africa.  I was (and am) so proud to work for children.  I had been giving voice to children in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, many of whom still suffer from lack of access to education, clean water, shelter, and nutrition. But I didn’t know that children in my own hometown in Fukushima, Japan, were also voiceless.  The day the Great East Japan Earthquake hit our hometown—and three nuclear power plants in Fukushima started to meltdown—they too needed a voice.

* * * *

March 11, 2011. Morning in Kenya. My mobile phone rang. But I turned it off, as I was working. It rang again. Again, I turned it off.

It was a nice morning in Nairobi, and I was attending a workshop. The workshop just started and I did not want to be distracted by a call. Then the phone rang a third time. Thinking it must be an emergency, I picked up. “Suguru, a huge earthquake has hit Japan. Somewhere in the north. My parents are away. I just opened all the doors of our house so that we won’t get stuck inside.”

It was my wife in Saitama prefecture in Japan. She delivered our baby boy four months ago and was staying in her parents’ home until the baby grew big enough to travel to Kenya, where I worked.

“I called your mom in Fukushima. I was able to talk with her once. She was fine. But I can’t reach her anymore. Something is wrong with the mobile communication system. I can’t call my mom, either. I am scared.”

I told my wife to stay at home and try to fill the bathtub, just to secure water. And try to collect more information. As soon as we hung up, I told my colleagues that I needed to Continue reading

On leaving work and wondering what to take away

This week’s blog is by Leora Ward, creator of Healing in Service. Leora has worked for many years in the social justice, women’s empowerment, and humanitarian fields.

As I leave my current job, after six years, it feels as if a phase of my life is closing. A circle is about to be completed, and I am left wondering what I should take away. What am I supposed to harvest from this season of my work in the humanitarian field?

This question has been cycling through my mind over the last few weeks. As I have written about it in my journal, talked about it with friends, and even listened to similar stories from other women in the social justice field, I have come up with three things that seem to continue to show up (for me and others) in our community.

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FEELINGS OF OVERWHELM AND ISOLATION

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the scope and scale of need in the world, and the long-term vision required to fully achieve social justice. These feelings (and the associated grief) leave us discouraged, overworked, and isolated. The emotions can be so intense that we consistently feel like we are falling over and maybe flat onto our face. We also typically don’t have the networks or support we need to keep us healthy, grounded, and balanced in Continue reading

Back from the borderlands

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This post is written by an anonymous contributor.

It is difficult to write about ending a mission while on mission. It is difficult to write about taking a break when the breaks one is able to take are too short to notice, too quick to be able to unwind. Working in isolated and dangerous locations takes a toll on a person’s body and mind. We come here to help people, but forget about taking care of ourselves.

I am guilty of this, of not making time to rest and re-energise. I think this is important, even in the midst of a demanding mission. It makes it easier for us to re-enter “normal” society after the mission is over, to meaningfully reconnect with those we love and who love us. I have been continuously working in so-called “deep field” locations for the pastseven years, with fluctuating levels of remoteness and insecurity. I count myself fortunate that only one person I care about was killed. I have had several friends kidnapped for Continue reading

Sea Change

SeaChange-Image-1

Source: MIT Water Club 

My father taught us very early on to respect the sea. As young girls, my sister and I would go into the water with him on an inflatable raft and learn to “catch” waves, to ride them into the shore. If we started paddling too late, we would miss the wave entirely; too soon, and it would break on top of us and sometimes throw us off the raft. We would go tumbling along on the sand under the water, forced to hold our breath until the wave let us come up for air again (getting “rolled”, as he called it). It was scary, but exhilarating.

Our most important lesson came on calm days, when he taught us not to mistake the smooth surface of the water and absence of waves for a lack of action underneath. Even when they are barely visible on the surface, there are always currents and sometimes a strong undertow. These powerful forces can carry us very far — in a direction that we may or may not want to go. And sometimes they act stealthily, taking us a ways down the shore before we even realize that we are being redirected.

When I first took a break from aid work, I felt burnt out and alone.  I started this blog in part to confront that stereotype, to respond to the many whispered conversations and questions of, “I feel like that too” and “But how did you do it?” and “Aren’t you scared you’ll never be able to go back?” I had seen a close colleague and friend, someone who I had long admired in the field, leave her job in a sudden and heartbreaking way. I supported her as best I could during her last few months at work, when she felt abandoned by the very entity that she had given so much to over the years. She eventually took the difficult and Continue reading